10 of the best power surfers to ever win the event at Bells

Michael Peterson came onto the scene during the early era of the oldest professional competition, taking three wins from 1973-75. Peterson only knew one way of surfing – full on. He was fast, he was powerful and he was savagely determined to win. His power surfing became the benchmark for all other surfers to enter this contest, where grunt was ultimately the only way to dominate the wave. If you weren’t charging like Peterson then you were out the game. 

Michael Peterson taking control at Bells on the cover of Tracks in 1975.

Simon Anderson’s first victory at Bells came in 1977, but it was his 1981 victory that saw everyone stand up and take notice. That year was the year that he revealed his three-fin thruster design, and put it to great use by winning Bells in massive 15-foot and blustery conditions. Well, the final was actually quite small and tricky, but big Simon had already shown that his powerful surfing, strong physique and the incredibly solid yet maneuverable thruster was the way to totally decimate opponents at Bells.

Joe Engel was one of the unsung power surfers from another time. He was more famous for his surf movie appearances than for his competitive nous. He was the star of the Nias segment in the 1982 movie Storm Riders that saw many surfers head out to try track down the waves of Lagundri. Joe went on to win Bells in 1983 with a confident display of strong surfing. Short, stocky and energetic, Engel put the pedal to the metal when surfing Bells back in the day, but his career was short lived, and he sadly died in 2006 at the age of 46.   

Tom Carroll was one of the goofy-footers who really knew how to surf Bells on his backhand, with powerful hooks and huge re-entries seeing him victorious in 1986. Tom was always a very confident surfer on his backhand, and never backed out of a big drop or a huge hook, and his under-the-lip turns at big Bells with radical recoveries were awe-inspiring to watch. Tom was one of the most feared competitors on his backhand and showed the world that surfing with your back to the wave at Bells was no disadvantage.

Martin Potter had a crazy year in 1989, winning the world title by the biggest margin ever seen, a stat that has still not been surpassed to date. He was broad-shouldered and aggressive in everything he did, from surfing to drinking to partying, and he was one of the most feared surfers of the day. He destroyed Bells by putting more brawn into his approach, and the win was part of his crazy world title run.

Sunny Garcia found his power groove at Bells Beach in the mid 90s and once he had found it he did his best to hang on. Garcia threw buckets at Bells and his surfing was also angry and full of grunt, with his thick, squared-off tails sending rooster tails into the sky. He took out wins in ’95 and ’96, and then came back in 2000 to sneak a final win as part of his world title year.

Matt Hoy was a no-nonsense forehand power-monger who redefined open-faced power surfing on many of the best right-handers on tour, including JBay and Bells Beach. He never compromised this power approach, and he drew different lines on the faces with the same lack of compromise. His roundhouse cutbacks to white water re-entries were some of the fastest and most powerful in the world and they were part of the package that saw him blast his way to Bells victory in 1997.

Mark Occhilupo stole Tom Carroll’s thunder as the most powerful goofy-footer to ever surf at Bells. He also had an uncanny way of reading the wave - it was like he knew exactly what the wave was going to do every single time he took off. If it backed off he was already half way through a big, swooping cutback, and if the lip reared he was already half-way up the face to hit it and then come straight back down on the same tracks.

Jordy Smith is the defending champion and the current power-freak out at Bells. His surfing style and approach is totally full-tilt with power and commitment, and combined with his aerial mastery and new school imagination make him the perfect Bells power surfer as well as the most feared competitor out there. After a poor show at Snapper he will be frothing to throw it all on the line at Bells and take another win at one of his favourite events.

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach -